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Harty: McNutt reaches out to former teammate

[ 1 ] July 31, 2011 |

You know from watching Marvin McNutt catch 87 passes for the Iowa football team over the past two seasons that he is a quality receiver.

He also deserves high marks as a friend. Allow me to explain.

McNutt was being asked the typical questions at the Big Ten football meetings on Friday in Chicago about individual and team goals when the subject turned to the tragic case of his former Iowa teammate Kyle Spading.

McNutt wants everybody to pray for Spading, who was severely injured July 22 in a traffic accident near Spading’s hometown of Belle Plaine.

According to the police report, Spading, a 24-year-old former walk-on tight end, was trapped inside the minivan he was driving after the rollover accident.

Spading now lies in a hospital fighting to recover from a broken neck that has left him paralyzed in his arms and legs.

“I was about to tell people, just pray for him and his family,” McNutt said while seated at a table with several reporters.

McNutt also posted a similar message on his Facebook page just hours after the accident occurred.

His thoughts have been consumed by Spading’s injury, which shows just how strong the bond is with former teammates.

McNutt was one of the first non-family members to visit Spading in the hospital. Out of respect for the family, McNutt didn’t share any details about the visit, other than saying that he spoke briefly to Kyle and his parents.

Spading’s mother, Kay Spading, is writing a daily journal about her son’s recovery that can be found on CaringBridge.com, www.caringbridge.org/visit/kylespading/journal/.

Her latest entry Sunday explained how because Kyle can’t use his arms he likes to have his head, shoulders and neck massaged frequently.

“It keeps him calm knowing someone is there,” Kay wrote.

Kyle also is talking more openly about what he remembers from the accident, according to Sunday’s update.

It’s obvious that Spading is a fighter because you don’t play football at a Big Ten school for four seasons without being on scholarship and with little chance of cracking the two-deep lineup without being one.

Now you just hope that the same toughness and determination and stick-to-itiveness that helped Spading persevere as a Hawkeye will pull him through this life-changing ordeal.

Football players, even ex-football players, are a special breed. They pride themselves on being tough and fearless.

Those are two attributes that Spading will lean heavily on now.

He’ll also need his family and friends like McNutt to help get through each grueling day.

Their friendship started largely because McNutt, a native of St. Louis, played quarterback when he first came to Iowa as a true freshman. He and Spading often crossed paths with Spading being a reserve tight end.

“I got to throw the ball to him quite a few times, and we just kind of developed a cool kind of rapport off the field as well,” McNutt said.

McNutt then moved to receiver midway through his redshirt freshman season in 2008 and has since been moving up the record lists.

He resisted the temptation to leave college a year early for the NFL this spring. And now heading into his senior season McNutt has a chance to leave Iowa as one of the most productive receivers in school history despite playing quarterback for most of his first two seasons.

McNutt’s 16 career touchdown catches already is tied for fourth best at Iowa and his 1,546 receiving yards is ranked 16th all time.

Spading, on the other hand, did all his work in practice.

He was buried on the depth chart, which is nothing to be ashamed of considering Iowa’s track record with tight ends.

Spading came to Iowa after twice making first-team all-state in football at Belle Plaine High School. He also earned four letters in high school in basketball, track and field, and baseball, which reminds us that even the walk-ons at Iowa are accomplished athletes.

Spading was listed at 6-foot-5, 250 pounds as a senior at Iowa in 2009. He could’ve played tight end for a number of smaller colleges and actually have played on Saturdays, but he chose to be a Hawkeye and he stuck with it.

“Those guys are just as important as the (players) you hear about all the time,” McNutt said. “Walk-ons are so important, people who don’t mind working every day to try to give you a better look in practice.

“That’s what makes teams great when you have guys like that.”

Spading is fortunate to have his family to comfort him and inspire him but not just his blood relatives.

His former Iowa teammates and coaches also will help with the healing process because it doesn’t matter if you were a star player or somebody who worked in obscurity on the scout team; you’re still an important part of the program.

“I think that’s the great thing about football,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We talk to our players about that all the time. Every player has got a role. Some roles aren’t real glamorous.

“Kyle never started a game at Iowa, yet it was a meaningful thing for him to be on the team and to be a part of the program. And we need that. We need guys that are unselfish. We need guys that are going to find a role, and Kyle accepted that and embraced that.”

Spading is the third person with ties to the Iowa football program who has been in a serious traffic accident in the last six months.

Longtime radio broadcaster Ed Podolak was struck by a car in Scottsdale, Ariz., in February. He broke both legs, broke ribs and suffered injuries to his lung.

The good news is that Podolak is expected to be in the radio booth for the season opener against Tennessee Tech on Sept. 3 at Kinnick Stadium.

Iowa offensive lineman Dan Heiar is recovering from a one-car accident that hospitalized him in April. Heiar’s injuries were serious enough that he is expected to redshirt this season.

He also will face disciplinary action when he rejoins the team after being charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated stemming from the accident.

The good news is that Heiar is expected to make a full recovery and you hope that he’s also learned a valuable lesson.

“These are all three examples of how quickly things can change really fast,” Ferentz said.

What doesn’t change is the bond between friends.

Kyle Spading knows that he isn’t in this fight alone. McNutt is making sure that he knows it.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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